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In the first of a series of features focusing on changes to the way apprenticeships are run and funded, Robin Searle looks at the development of a new professional standard for travel

Mention the word ‘apprentice’ and there’s a fair chance thoughts will turn to boardroom tables, fingers pointing and a succession of wannabe high-flyers wheeling their suitcases to a waiting taxi.

But for UK businesses, the word is going to become an increasingly important one to consider as the dawn of a new era for apprenticeships and the way they are funded looms large.

Next week is National Apprenticeship Week, an opportunity to celebrate the contribution that apprentices can make to businesses, and the companies that have embraced this particular model of training and development.

For those already converted, apprenticeships are a great way to introduce new recruits to businesses in a ‘true-life’ environment that is proven to improve staff retention and boost career progression.

And with a new set of standards due to be introduced and a new levy starting next year, suddenly apprenticeships are a hot topic for the wider industry.

How are apprenticeships changing?

Following a government review, a new structure is being introduced for apprenticeships in England, although Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will continue to set their own policy.

The government believes the apprenticeships will be simpler and better quality, giving employers greater flexibility and control over paying for training and assessment. It has set a target of reaching three million apprentice starts by 2020.

The apprenticeship standards for travel are expected to be introduced by the end of April, with a ‘dual-running’ period taking place to phaseout the old system of apprenticeship frameworks.

Key changes within the new structure include:

  • Apprenticeships will not have to include an accredited qualification, although employers could choose to stipulate one.
  • Employers choose which training to use – either in-house if registered, through a third-party registered training provider, or using a combination of both with an endorsed vocational qualification an optional inclusion.
  • All apprentices will have to go through the same independent end assessment – a bit like a driving test – and will be graded for the first time with either a ‘pass’, ‘merit’ or ‘distinction’.
  • The assessment must be carried out by a registered assessment organisation.

What is happening to apprenticeships in travel?

In order to create the new standards, the government appointed groups, called Trailblazers, formed of employers from within different sectors.

People 1st, the workforce development specialist for the visitor economy, was chosen by employers to oversee the Trailblazer process and work on behalf of the Trailblazers to design the new apprenticeship standards and assessments for our sector.

The travel industry Trailblazer group included representatives of companies including BCD Travel, Tui Group, Hillgate Travel, Thomas Cook, Capita Travel & Events, Horncastle Executive Travel, Midcounties Co-operative, Clarity Travel Management, Giles Travel, Eton Travel and HRG.

This group has created the first professional standard for the industry for travel consultants. The three existing frameworks -– travel services for leisure and business, tour operator field staff and tour operator head office – are being phased out.

This new standard, which will take a minimum of 12 months to complete, has been designed to reflect both leisure and business travel roles.

It covers “critical knowledge, skills and behaviours” including geography, travel information, industry practice, travel options, product and service and customer profiles, in addition to knowledge of legal and compliance issues, technology and general understanding of business, sales, team performance, communication and sustainability.

It has been approved by Abta and the Guild of Travel Management Companies, and has initial and supervisory levels that equate to Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships.

Additional travel standards could be created and introduced in areas including tour operating if there is sufficient demand, and new standards in related sectors include seven options within the hospitality industry and four within aviation.

Who will oversee the quallity of the new apprenticeships?

The government is forming an Institute for Apprenticeships to oversee the quality of standards across the board, and People 1st has been nominated by employers to put in place a governance system for the visitor economy.

A task force of employers was formed in December last year, and has been working to establish this governance system to ensure the ongoing quality of apprenticeships, increase take-up and generate a return on investment from the levy when it is introduced next year.

Annette Allmark, director of strategic policy for People 1st, said: “The task force is playing a central role, bringing together 35 leading employers from across the visitor economy sector.

“It will ensure the effective implementation of the new apprenticeship standards, communicate to the government and, most importantly, ensure employers are firmly in the driving seat of the process.”

Part two:

Are you ready for the apprenticeship levy? To fund its goal of creating three million apprentice starts by 2020 and to encourage companies to embrace apprenticeships, the government is introducing a new levy that will come into force in April 2017 and is expected to raise £3 billion.

To find out how the levy will affect your business, look out for the second part of our special apprenticeship features on March 24.